Many times, our primary reason for traveling is to discover a new destination. Other times, we travel as a response to something else in our lives. Sometimes, we travel solo to cope with loss or grief.
While I would never suggest that travel alone will cure sadness or any other difficulty we may be experiencing, many travelers have found that there are aspects of traveling solo that have helped them in the wake of loss. It can offer space to experience our feelings without pressure, opportunities for quiet reflection, or some distraction to help provide a bit of balance. It may also help to illuminate a path forward.
Here is Renee’s story of how she used solo travel to cope with loss after the end of a relationship. Following that, members of the Solo Travel Society share insights on how solo travel has helped them on their different journeys to healing.
Travel Solo to Heal from a Breakup
As I boarded the plane to travel solo to Melbourne, Australia, I looked back at my parents. My dad’s last words were “Don’t talk to strangers.” This was a bit of an inside joke as I was about to travel all the way around the world on my own. It left me giggling although my heart was still mending from the last words of another man in my life: “It’s over.”
Where to go? What to do? Thirty-nine hours of traveling had left me delirious. But I couldn’t complain as the Aussies kindly helped me find where I was staying. I hummed and hawed as I walked alone through the clean streets of downtown Melbourne thinking just how fantastic my decision to travel alone was. The people here are great! Although I was lonely, I was never really alone.
You’re never alone when you travel as you’re constantly sharing experiences and learning new things with all the people you meet. From the busy train platforms to the museums and restaurants you visit, a traveler is always in the company of strangers.
The sheer beauty of the countries I visited over the course of the year–Australia, Fiji, and Mexico–outweighed the hurt and anguish my heart was feeling. From the “G’day mate” to the “Bula” (God bless) and the “Como esta?” welcomes of the local people, I couldn’t help but feel happy. I was soaking in the sights, sounds, tastes, and touches of the cultures and earth around me. “Time heals all wounds” is inaccurate. “Travel heals all wounds” is more like it. So, I kept on going, up and down the coasts, in and out of countries, and feeling better and better every step of the way.
It didn't take much for me to realize that my heart was mending when I met a boy who swept me off my feet. He was romantic, kind, and caring and would do anything to help me get the most out of my year away. He took me to Philip Island where I saw the Penguin Parade, to restaurants, spas, wineries, and more. And although our time together was short, he left a tiny footprint on my heart and a realization that I was healed.
If you have a broken heart I highly recommend solo travel to cope with loss. You will meet amazing people, encounter spectacular beauty, and learn so much about yourself. You will return knowing a little more about the world, but more importantly, you will return with a mended heart.
Post-Breakup Insights from the Solo Travel Society
I asked the more than a quarter million members of our Facebook community, “Have you ever traveled alone in the wake of a broken heart or a tragic event of some kind? What did you take away from that experience? Would you recommend it to others?” Here are some highlights of their experiences with solo travel at the end of a relationship.
Nancy traveled alone around Kauai after a difficult breakup. “I could drive around singing along loudly to heartbreak songs on the radio. I had never been to Hawaii and was enchanted, which distracted me from my depressing thoughts. Plus, I realized that I could have a good time alone and do what I wanted. One evening I drove halfway around the island back to where I had been earlier in the day to sit on the same balcony at sunset. There was no one to say that was ridiculous!”
A frequent contributor to the Solo Travel Society, Steve said, “My first true solo trip was 10 years ago after the end of my marriage. I never looked back. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, and I don’t plan on stopping.”
“I recommend it for anyone!” said Joy. “Seeing the beauty in other people, places and things gets you out of your head and gives you a chance for a new beginning! You’ll come away with memories of you, yourself seeing the world and moving on. It’s an exhilarating feeling, so freeing. The ties that bind you are gone, as well as the complacency you build after years of always being the one that compromised. It’s amazing!”
Tony booked a flight to Frankfurt following a heartbreak and spent a week in Paris on his own. “I used that time to explore a city I had only dreamed of visiting. It gave me the chance to refocus where I wanted to invest my emotional energy and gave me a whole new perspective. I like to think I turned around a negative situation and came out a better person for it.”
“The metaphor of the broken heart reminds me that the ‘crack' is a doorway that opens both ways,” said Scott. “I've traveled this way, several times. No new loves resulted, but a book did. It came to me while sitting on the chiseled stone steps of Tulsi Ghat in Varanasi. Leonard Cohen reminds us that the crack is how the light gets in; it's also how it gets out. In time, and each and every time, my own light became visible, again.”
Listen to the wonderful Leonard Cohen sing the song that Scott mentioned.
Solo Travel to Cope with Loss of a Loved One
Readers shared with us their stories of taking a solo trip in the wake of the death of a spouse or other family member. Some spoke of honoring the wishes of the deceased or fulfilling a travel dream that they had shared. Others spoke of learning that there are no guarantees in life, and that we should travel while we can. Some found that solo travel following a death helped them gain perspective.
Linda shared, “After my father passed away I took a tour of a few European countries. My family thought it was selfish, but it was the best decision. I had time to think and grieve my own way. I smiled (and cried) in places I visited that I know Dad would have loved. My Dad always wanted to travel but he never did, and I know he would have been excited for me.”
Jane also traveled alone following the loss of her father. “Last November, my dad entered hospice two weeks before I was leaving for a trip to Vienna. I was going to cancel to fly home to see him. He told my sister to tell me to go to Vienna. His mother's family was from Austria and he said it would mean so much to him if I went there and then told him about it. I did. Sadly, he passed later in December, but I did get to talk to him about my trip and bring him something back. I wish I could have seen him one more time, but I know I honored his wishes and that he always lived vicariously through trips that I made that he couldn't.”
“I visited Ireland after my Mom passed away,” said Shannan. “It was always our “bucket list” trip that we never got around to. I was determined to go in her honor. We did a butterfly release at her memorial service and she sends me butterflies frequently. On the first day of my tour in Dublin, a butterfly flew right outside my window on the bus. I continued to see them throughout my visit. I knew she was there with me in spirit.”
When Judy’s husband, with whom she had traveled the world, passed away quite suddenly, she says, “My son insisted I go to Alaska by myself. Although bittersweet, it was empowering and life-changing discovering I can travel solo. My husband would be so proud of me. I am woman, hear me roar!”
Lynda shared, “It was a tragic series of events over a 2-year period that started me solo travelling. It brought home to me that tomorrow isn't a given, so if there's something you want to do then stop making excuses and just do it!
Christine summed things up nicely with a quote. “I don't know if solo travel mends the heart so much as it puts the heartbreak back into perspective. In the words of poet Lang Leav, “it was just an ending they tell me, not the end.” I believe that is true.”
I’m giving Beth the last word on the subject of solo travel to cope with loss. “I solo travelled after a 7-year relationship broke up and after my father died. Both times, I was able to gain a level of self-reliance and even peace that I was unable to gain at home. Solo travel, when undertaken to deal with a horrible event, gives you the freedom to deal with things without outside influence. You can grieve at your own pace and make peace with your new reality at your leisure.”